Radical suggestions for changing the way in which nurses, midwives and health visitors are regulated have been set out in a report commissioned by the four UK health departments.

In a review of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997, JM Consulting suggests public protection should be made the 'paramount' reason for regulation.

It suggests the nursing register, which is presently split into 15 different parts, should be simplified and a new, unified structure for professional self-regulation created by the five statutory bodies which now regulate nursing and midwifery.

However, the review acknowledges this would depend on the underlying relationships between nurses, midwives and the professions allied to medicine.

It suggests health visitors should be recognised as specialist nurses, rather than separate professionals, but raises questions about the continued joint regulation of midwives and nurses.

The report has been welcomed by the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, which said it 'fully backed' the idea that public protection should be the main aim of regulation.

The Regulation of Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors: an invitation to comment on issues raised by a review of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997. JM Consulting, Saville Court, Saville Place, Bristol BS8 4EJ. Free.